Beijing Boyce: Ningxia vs Bordeaux blind tasting

We at Asian Palate have been closely following the improvements made by the Chinese domestic wine industry. Jeannie Cho Lee MW is currently including another half a dozen Chinese wines to the Galaxy Macau list and she has been a firm believer in the improving quality of wines not just from Ningxia but also from Shanxi, Gansu, Shandong (Yantai & Penglai) and Xinjiang. Wines from the Ningxia province in China have recently been successful in international wine competitions. For example, He Lan Qing Xue’s Jia Bei Lan 2009 Cabernet blend won the Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10 International Trophy at theDecanter World Wine Awards 2011. We are therefore not surprised to find out theresultsof the Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge held this in Beijing on the 14th of December, 2011.


The event featured ten wines — five from Ningxia and five from Bordeaux. They were blind-tasted by ten judges — five from China and five from France.


The Chinese judges chosen were:
Ma Huiqin, professor at China University of Agriculture and wine marketing expert (head judge)
Frankie Zhao, owner of Pro-Wine Consultancy
Fiona Sun, senior editor at China edition of Revue du Vin
Jin Yang, wine teacher who spent five years studying in Bordeaux wine programs.
John Gai, wine distributor and manager of bar operation Palatte.


The French judges chosen were:
Nicolas Carre, sommelier and wine consultant (head judge)
Jerome Sabate, long involved as wine maker with Dragon Seal in Beijing
Nathalie Sibillet, oenologist, journalist and teacher
Thomas Briollet, seven years experience in China wine distribution
Edouard Kressman, wine maker with experience in Bordeaux, California and Argentina


This event was coordinated with wine retail and information websiteTasteV, wine club Zun, and Chinese wine blogGrape Wall of Chinacontributors. The judges were asked to rank the wines from first to tenth based on quality. The first place was worth one point, the second worth two points, and so on. The wines with the lowest total scores were the winners. The top five were the following:

1. Grace Vineyard Chairman’s Reserve 2009, 34 points (RMB488)
2. Silver Heights The Summit 2009, 42 points (RMB416)
3. Helan Qing Xue Jia Bei Lan Cabernet Dry Red 2009, 44 points (was RMB220, now pending)
4. Grace Vineyard Deep Blue 2009, 46 points (RMB288)
5. Barons de Rothschild Collection Saga Medoc 2009, 54 points (RMB350)


The top pick of the five French judges was the Chairman’s Reserve, while the top pick of the five Chinese judges turned out to be the Summit.


The other wines tasted were alphabetically: Calvet Reserve De L’Estey Medoc 2009, Cordier Prestige Rouge 2008, Kressmann Grande Réserve St-Émilion AOC 2008, Mouton Cadet Reserve Medoc 2009 and Silver Heights Family Reserve 2009.


While there was a lot of controversy regarding the Bordeaux wines chosen for the event, the Grape Wall of China replied that the contest was never meant to be a Beijing version of the Judgement of Paris, or that they were pairing the best of Bordeaux with Ningxia wines- but that they instead used aprice rangeto compare top Ningxia wines with well-known Bordeaux brands sold by major distributors in China. This would force the price range of the Bordeaux wines to be around RMB350. However, since the Ningxia wines were around the same price range, the choices of wines for the competition was not to be perceived as unfair.


Jim Boyce who organized this tasting says, “I know there will be many questions about this tasting. For example, French wines face about 48% in tariffs which means they have a price disadvantage versus Chinese wines. That is true. On the other hand, the prices listed above are what Chinese consumers face. Also, two distributors told me that when taxes in Chinese wine are taken into account, it is closer to a 20% difference.”


He adds, “For now, the big ‘takeaway’ for me is that Chinese wines have again — not for the first time, not for second time, but again — shown they can compete on a global level. The reality check: these wines represent a sliver of the China market and the industry as a whole has a long way to go. Still, for those who ask, “Can China make good wine?” the answer is yes.”